Pinpointing the Position of the Post-Asymptotic Giant Branch Star at the Core of RAFGL 2688 Using Polarimetric Imaging with NICMOS

David Weintraub, Vanderbilt University
Joel H. Kastner, Rochester Institute of Technology
Dean C. Hines, University of Arizona
Raghvendra Sahai, California Institute of Technology

© 2000 The American Astronomical Society

DCH acknowledges support by NASA grant NAG5-3042 to the NICMOS instrument definition team. RS thanks NASA for support through grant GO-07423.01-96A from the Space Telescope Science Institute (which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS5-26555).

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We have used infrared polarimetric imaging with NICMOS to determine precisely the position of the star that illuminates (and presumably generated) the bipolar, pre-planetary reflection nebula RAFGL 2688 (the Egg Nebula). The polarimetric data pinpoint the illuminating star, which is not detected directly at wavelengths ≤ 2 µm, at a position well within the dark lane that bisects the nebula, 0.′′55 (~550 AU) southwest of the infrared peak which was previously detected at the southern tip of the northern polar lobe. The inferred position of the central star corresponds to the geometric center of the tips of the four principle lobes of near-infrared H2 emission; identifying the central star at this position also reveals the strong point symmetric structure of the nebula, as seen both in the intensity and polarization structure of the polar lobes. The polarimetric and imaging data indicate that the infrared peak directly detected in the NICMOS images is a self-luminous source and, therefore, is most likely a distant binary companion to the illuminating star. Although present theory predicts that bipolar structure in pre-planetary and planetary nebulae is a consequence of binary star evolution, the separation between the components of the RAFGL 2688 binary system, as deduced from these observations, is much too large for the presence of the infrared companion to have influenced the structure of the RAFGL 2688 nebula.